During the era popularly referred to as the Golden Age of comics, nearly all of DC's most popular superheroes had a teenage sidekick. Starting with the introduction of Dick Grayson as Robin on the pages of "Detective Comics" #38 in April 1940, sidekicks were introduced to give younger readers a character they could relate to, give their heroes someone to play off of, and also often served as comic relief.
Despite falling out of favor in the years since the Golden Age, many of these characters have since found new life as heroes of their own, taken up the mantle of their mentors, or have since faded into obscurity or fallen on some pretty hard times. Today, we're taking a look at the 15 best sidekicks in DC Comics history.
15 CYRIL SHELDRAKE
Cyril Sheldrake began his vigilante career as the sidekick Squire in "Batman" #62 by writer Bill Finger and artists Bob Kane and Lew Sayre Schwartz. Cyril and his father, Percival Sheldrake, the Earl of Wordenshire, were originally inspired to vigilantism by Batman and Robin, but their backstory was later changed to have Percival act as a sidekick (also known as Squire) to the Golden Age hero Shinning Knight before later taking on the mantle the Knight.
Either way, Cyril becomes the second Squire and the father-son team become two of the United Kingdom's premiere heroes as well as founding members of the Batmen of All Nations (later Batman Inc.), a group of vigilantes inspired to action by Batman's career as a crime fighter and handpicked to act as agents around the world. Cyril acted as Squire until his father's death at the hands of their archenemy Springheeled Jack which sent him spiraling into a depression fueled by drugs and alcohol. It isn't until he meets Beryl Hutchinson (the woman who would become the third Squire) that Cyril is able to deal with the loss of his father and take up his mantle as the Knight.
14 MARY MARVEL
Billy Batson's long lost twin sister Mary made her debut in "Captain Marvel Adventures" #18 by writer Otto Binder and artist Marc Swayze before the Marvel Family of characters was purchased by DC. In the original Fawcett Comics published stories, Mary becomes Captain Marvel's second sidekick "Mary Marvel" after discovering she too can transform into a super-powered version of herself by uttering the magic word "Shazam!" Mary regularly appeared alongside Captain Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr. in "The Marvel Family" as well as headlining "Wow Comics" for over 50 issues until Fawcett Comics folded in 1951 after a long legal battle with DC over Captain Marvel's likeness to Superman.
The character wouldn't be seen again until 1973 after DC licensed (and later bought) the rights to use the Marvel family. The character continued to appear in comics published by DC until the 1985 event "Crisis on Infinite Earths" where all of the members of the Marvel family (save Captain Marvel himself) were written out of the DC cannon. She would later return with an altered origin, and was brainwashed into becoming a villain for a time before again having her origins rewritten for DC's "New 52" where she is Billy's foster sister.
13 CAPTAIN MARVEL JR.
Captain Marvel's original sidekick, Freddy Freeman a.k.a. Captain Marvel Jr., first appeared in a crossover between Captain Marvel and Bulletman where the two team up to defeat Captain Nazi, Adolf Hitler's answer to American superheroes. In part two of the story, on the pages of "Whiz Comics" #25 by writer/inker Ed Herron, and pencilers C.C. Beck and Mac Raboy, Captain Marvel punches Captain Nazi and sends him flying into a lake where Freddy and his Grandfather are fishing. Not knowing who he is, they pull the unconscious Captain Nazi onto their boat only for him to awaken, murder Freddy's Grandfather and knock him unconscious.
Captain Marvel gets Freddy to a hospital, but is told he isn't expected to survive the night. Desperate to save him, Captain Marvel takes Freddy to the wizard who originally gave Billy his powers, Shazam. He informs Captain Marvel that while he can't save him, Marvel could share some of his power to heal Freddy. Though he is left permanently crippled and requiring a cane, upon saying "Captain Marvel" he turns into the hero Captain Marvel Jr., often acting as Billy's number two and starring in his own ongoing series for 119 issues before Fawcett's closure.
12 BETTY/BETTE KANE
Years before Barbara Gordon would take up the mantle of Batgirl, Bette Kane (sometimes referred to as Betty instead) was the first "Bat-Girl," sidekick to the original Batwoman. Originally introduced in "Batman" #139 by writer Bill Finger and artist Sheldon Moldoff, Bette became Bat-Girl after discovering her aunt Kathy was Batwoman. After pestering Kathy to allow her to become Bat-Girl, Bette receives training in hopes the hard work will discourage her, but she excels and earns her spot as a member of the Bat Family.
She would later briefly retire from costumed crime fighting to become a world-renowned tennis champ, but would eventually return to her identity as "Bat-Girl" to become a member of Titans West, the west coast incarnation of the Teen Titans. Bette and Kathy were both victims of "Crisis on Infinite Earths" and were erased from existence. She was reimagined post-Crisis as Mary Elizabeth Kane, the superhero Flamebird and cousin of the new Batwoman, Kate Kane.
11 DONNA TROY
Donna Troy, the first character besides Wonder Woman to use the name "Wonder Girl," has a pretty confusing history thanks to a blunder made by the creative team of writer Bob Haney and Bruno Premiani. "Brave and the Bold" #1 saw the debut of the original Teen Titans consisting of Aqualad, Kid Flash, Robin, and Wonder Girl. However, the creators were unaware at the time that up until that point Wonder Girl, was just a younger version of Wonder Woman, and not a separate character.
It wasn't until four years after the character's introduction that this Wonder Girl received her own name and backstory in "Teen Titans" #22 by writer Neal Adams and artist Nick Cardy. As a child Donna was saved from an apartment fire by Wonder Woman, and with no surviving family, was adopted by Wonder Woman's mother Queen Hippolyta and given Amazonian powers. Over the years, the character's backstory would be expanded, scrapped and rewritten more than once, but her status as Wonder Woman's sidekick and as a founding member of the Teen Titans are (generally) left untouched.
10 JASON TODD
Due to the incredible popularity of the Teen Titans, by the time the '80s had rolled around Dick Grayson had largely outgrown his role as Batman's sidekick. However, his absence from the mainline Batman stories left a void, so after debuting in "Batman" #357 in 1983 by writer Gerry Conway and artists Don Newton and Adrienne Roy, Jason Todd would become the second Robin later that year in "Batman" #366. Though his original backstory saw him portrayed as little more than a blonde clone of Dick Grayson (complete with circus performer parents), after "Crisis on Infinite Earths" the character 's origin and personality received a major overhaul.
From then on, Jason was re-imagined as a hot-headed street orphan Batman had taken under his wing after catching him trying to steal the tires off the Batmobile. The reboot of the character proved unpopular and, as a part of the 1988 four-part "Death in the Family" miniseries, writer Dennis O'Neil gave readers the chance to call in and vote on Jason's fate. In what Batman considers to be his greatest failure, Jason is kidnapped by the Joker, beaten, and left to die in an explosion after losing by only 72 votes.
9 STEPHANIE BROWN
The only character to ever act as both Robin and Batgirl, Stephanie Brown, was originally introduced in a three-issue mini-series as the daughter of the C-list Batman villain Cluemaster in "Detective Comics" #647-649 by writer Chuck Dixon and artists Tom Lyle and Adrienne Roy. When Cluemaster is deemed cured of his criminal insanity, he returns to his family in Gotham only to quickly resume his life of crime. Infuriated, Stephanie became the vigilante Spoiler in order to stop him, and proved popular enough to become a recurring character in Tim Drake's ongoing Robin series.
Stephanie would begin her stint as Robin after Tim's father, Jack Drake, discovered his dual life as the third Robin, and forced him to briefly give up his life of vigilantism. After creating a homemade Robin costume and sneaking into the Batcave, she convinces Batman to (reluctantly) train her as Tim's replacement. Though she fights alongside Batman for a time, she was fired after directly disobeying Batman's orders. Years later after her apparent death at the hands of Black Mask, Stephanie would return first as Spoiler, and later as the fourth Batgirl until the "New 52" event saw Barbara Gordon return to the role.
Another founding member of the Teen Titans, the first Aqualad a.k.a. the Atlantean youth named Garth, was introduced in the pages of "Adventure Comics" #269 by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel and artist George Papp. In his debut, Garth is portrayed as an Atlantean exiled from Atlantis because of his extreme fear of marine life. Aquaman vows to help the boy overcome his fears, and Garth does so later that issue by helping Aquaman land a plane with the aid of some fish.
Cured of his fears, Aquaman takes him back to Atlantis only to realize he misses Garth, who then surprises Aquaman by arriving and expressing his desire to become the hero's sidekick rather than return to Atlantis. Despite his work as a member of the Teen Titans and a few significant conflicts with his mentor, Garth would remain Aquman's partner throughout much of his career, eventually adopting the name Tempest.
7 DAMIAN WAYNE
Though the idea of a child born from the union of Batman and on-again/off-again love interest Talia al Ghul was first introduced by Writer Mike W. Barr and artist Jerry Bingham in the originally non-cannon 1985 graphic novel "Batman: Son of the Demon," it wasn't until Grant Morrison's first run on "Batman" in 2006 that Damian Wayne was made a canonical part of the Batman mythos. In the "Batman and Son" story arc that took place across "Batman" issues #655-658 by Morrison and artists Andy Kubert, Dave Stewart and Guy Major, Talia al Ghul leaves a 10-year-old Damian in Bruce's custody in an attempt to disrupt his work as Batman.
Due to his training from the League of Assassins, Damian is headstrong, viscous and unafraid to kill, putting him at odds with Bruce. Despite their differences, Damian genuinely wants to impress his father and aid him in his fight against crime, which leads to a bitter rivalry between him and then-Robin Tim Drake. Damian wouldn't become the official fifth Robin until a couple years into Morrison's run, after Bruce's apparent death, which was when Dick Grayson took up the mantle. Later after his father returned, Damian would continue acting as Robin.
6 ROY HARPER
Roy Harper began his crime fighting career as the first "Speedy," the teenage sidekick to Green Arrow, in "Adventure Comics" #218 by writer Otto Binder and artists Curt Swain and George Klein. After Roy's father dies in a forest fire saving the members of a Navajo tribe, Roy is taken in by the tribe's shaman Brave Bow. Recognizing Roy's talents with a bow early on, Brave Bow trained Roy to become an expert archer. After assisting the Green Arrow in stopping a robbery, Roy begins training with Arrow eventually becoming his sidekick, and later adopted son after the death of Brave Bow.
Roy acted as Speedy for over 15 years of publication history, eventually becoming a founding member of the Teen Titans and dating teammate Donna Troy. After the Titans disbanded, his relationship with Donna ended and the Green Arrow began to neglect him, Troy's life began a serious downward spiral. While Arrow was on a cross-country road trip with Green Lantern and Black Canary, Roy became addicted to heroin. Green Arrow threw him out on the street before finding and leaving him in the care of Black Canary, ending their partnership and severely damaging their relationship for years.
5 CASSANDRA CAIN
The third Batgirl, Cassandra Cain, first appeared in the 1999 storyline "Batman: No Man's Land." Originally introduced in "Batman" #567 by writer Kelley Puckett and artists Damion Scott and Gregory Wright, Cassandra was the daughter of two of the world's deadliest assassins: David Cain and Lady Shiva. Conceived and trained from birth to be the perfect bodyguard for Ra's al Ghul, instead of being trained to speak, read, or write, Cassandra was trained only to fight and kill, using the part of her brain intended to process speech to instead read body language.
At eight years old, her father intended to test her training by having her take her first life. Reading the man's body language as he died, Cassandra was horrified to learn what she had done, and spent the next nine years as a homeless vagrant before coming to Gotham and meeting Barbara Gordon, who takes her under her wing. Cassandra was given the mantle of Batgirl by Batman after taking it from the Huntress, Helena Bertinelli, who tried taking the mantle for her own. Despite her handicaps, Cassandra proved to be one of Batman's fiercest and most reliable allies, and eventually a hero in her own right.
4 TIM DRAKE
By the age of nine, Tim Drake, the third sidekick to take up the mantle of Robin, was able to deduce Batman and Robin's secret identities, after seeing Dick Grayson perform with his parents as a child and noticing Dick using the same quadruple somersault while acting as Robin. After deducing that Nightwing was in fact Dick striking out on his own, and also noticing Batman's increasingly erratic behavior in the wake of Jason Todd's death, Tim realizes this is his opportunity to help his heroes and becomes the new Robin.
Tracking down Nightwing, Tim impresses him with his incredible detective skills and convinces him to endorse him as Robin to Bruce (and the fans). After he and Alfred save Batman and Nightwing from Clayface, Bruce reluctantly agrees to take Tim on under a trial basis before having him undergo the strictest training of any Robin thus far to avoid his past mistakes. Unlike his predecessor, the character proved to be incredibly popular and went on to become the first Robin to star in his own solo book.
3 WALLY WEST
Before taking up the mantle of Flash himself, Wally West was the sidekick to the original Flash, his uncle Barry Allen. Growing up in rural Nebraska, Wally was the president and sole member of the Blue Valley Flash Fan Club. At the age of 10, Wally traveled to Flash's home of Central City to stay with his Aunt (and Barry's then-girlfriend) Iris Allen. Barry, who told Wally he was "friends" with The Flash, arranged a meeting in Barry's lab where the freak accident that gave him his powers was repeated giving Wally the same powers as The Flash.
Telling Wally to keep his identity a secret to everyone, even his Aunt, Flash gives him his own costume before taking him on as his sidekick and teaching him everything about being a speedster. Barry would later reveal his identity to Wally, and due to Wally's strained relationship with his parents, the two became very close, Barry and Iris often acting as the speedster's surrogate parents. Wally would eventually go on to become a founding member of the Teen Titans before becoming The Flash himself after Barry's death in the "Crisis on Infinite Earths."
2 BARBARA GORDON
The second and most popular Batgirl, Barbara Gordon debuted in issue #359 of "Detective Comics" by writer Gardner Fox and artist Carmine Infantino. However, the character was actually created at the request of the producers of the 1960s Batman television show starring Adam West and Burt Ward, in hopes of attracting new female viewership and earning the show a third season. William Dozier, the show's executive producer, suggested the new character be the daughter of Commissioner Gordon with DC Editor Julius Scwartz and Infantino filling in the gaps and developing the character's look respectively.
Thanks in part to her portrayal on television by Yvonne Craig, Barbara became an incredibly popular character, regularly fighting alongside Batman and Robin and even independently as Batgirl, and earning her Pd.D. in library science and becoming a member of the House of Representatives in her civilian life. After DC officially retired the hero, Barbara was famously paralyzed by the Joker in Alan Moore's "Batman: The Killing Joke," leading her to become the Oracle, a genius hacker and superhero informant, and leader of the Birds of Prey. 2011's "New 52" event saw Barbara return to her status as Batgirl for the first time since 1989.
1 DICK GRAYSON
Leader of the Teen Titans, Batman's first ward, and the sidekick that started it all, Dick Grayson, is unquestionably the most iconic sidekick in the history of comics. As we mentioned above, Dick was introduced in "Detective Comics" #38 by writer Bill Finger and artist Bob Kane, as the sole survivor of the Flying Graysons, the family of acrobats. When the circus' owner refused to pay protection money to a group of criminals, the Graysons' act is sabotaged, causing Dick's parents to fall to their deaths.
Batman is in attendance as Bruce Wayne and, feeling a kinship to the newly orphaned Dick, offers to take him in as his ward and train him to avenge his parent's deaths. During his career as the younger half of the "Dynamic Duo," Dick would become the leader of the Teen Titans before eventually striking out on his own as Nightwing in Gotham's neighboring city of Blüdhaven, later taking up the mantle of Batman for a time in Bruce's absence.
Which is your favorite sidekick? Is there anyone else you think should have made the list? Let us know in the comments below!